By Sandi Soendker, managing editor
There's never been a time when health maintenance was more essential to staying certified to drive a truck. We're talking about your DOT physical.
"A trucker's average age is about 45. The complications of age and the challenges of the job are things all truckers deal with. Plus, stricter requirements are on the way," says John McElligott, MD.
He said that additional guidance constantly being supplied by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration directly affects certification, often limiting certification to less than the traditional two-year time frame.
McElligott says this means that chronic conditions may require additional treatment and documentation to maintain proper certification.
As if that isn't enough, if the FMCSA presses forward with a plan on physician certification, the industry could see an exodus of family doctors willing to give DOT physicals – leaving truckers with few good options for treatment and certification.
Hope may not be entirely lost if the big plan of two wily DOT-savvy docs takes off.
"It's obvious that the landscape of medical care for the commercial driver is rapidly changing and the need for a network of facilities to perform the specialized examinations becomes essential."
McElligott, known as "Dr. John, the trucker's doc," is a physician specializing in internal medicine at Occupational Health Services, in Knoxville, TN, a company he started more than 13 years ago. His clinic offers specialized examinations to CDL holders who have ongoing medical issues of special concern to FMCSA.
"Although there are a variety of conditions, the ones grabbing the most attention are sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus and coronary artery disease," says McElligott.
Any of those three conditions combined with being overweight result in "the leading cause of restriction or disqualification by a DOT doctor conducting a DOT physical on a trucker he has never seen," McElligott says.
McElligott developed what he calls "The Big Trucker Physical." His goal is to assist commercial drivers in maintaining their certification through appropriate management of chronic medical problems by health care providers who are sensitive to the special needs of the commercial driver.
"We are currently building a list of doctors all over the country who will become certified by the FMCSA as Certified Driver Medical Examiners. These special doctors will be able to take off their DOT hat to diagnose and treat drivers with those chronic conditions.
"This allows a trucker to be treated and certified by a doctor who knows the rigors of the road and the medications that will keep our truckers safe and compliant."
McElligott said that truckers are helping to build the "list" into a full-blown "network" by referring their personal medical doctor, osteopathic physician, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner to the group.
One of those in the network – the first to volunteer for the list in fact – is David McKinney, MD, with California Occupational Medical Professionals in Oroville, CA. He is board certified in occupational medicine and owns his own business, much like Dr. John. His practice is large and includes workers' compensation, commercial driver certification, aviation medicine, toxicology, medical/legal medicine and yearly wellness programs for police and fire departments.
McKinney's practice mostly involves doing physicals. He says because of this, he "carries the goals of treatment with me."
He and McElligott met while working on an FMCSA committee, and he was impressed that McElligott had a similar approach.
"From a safety standpoint, all drivers must be fit and compliant. I mean, we are all on the road and I would expect nothing else from true professionals," he says.
McKinney believes driving a truck is a profession that is essential to the nation's economy. The average driver is aging and has a difficult lifestyle with time-pressured demands.
"This is what we in epidemiology would call a population at risk," he says. "I think John has a brilliant idea in developing a network of experienced physicians who specialize in the treatment, care, and certification of commercial truckers."
Because of that, McKinney takes on drivers – and pilots who face the same dilemma with the FAA – who may have medical conditions that could keep their medical certification from being a sure thing.
McKinney has expanded the "Big Trucker Physical" based on that past experience.
"Make no mistake; they will have to pass the physical, but I am willing to take them on as patients to help do so," says McKinney. "I believe that this is a role of occupational medicine physician, actually an essential one."
Aside from Dr. McElligott and Dr. McKinney, the growing network has 10 physicians on board.
To find out more about the network or for an appointment referral, call 530-534-5353 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. LL